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Hate groups escalating tactics against LGBTQ+ people in Canada

While there has been little actual violence, multiple venues have received threats of violence- protestors regularly spout homophobic vitriol

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By Rob Salerno | TORONTO – Disrupting school board meetings. Terrorizing librarians. Sending threatening messages from an activist’s father’s palliative care ward. Canada’s anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups are taking alarming steps to harass and intimidate LGBTQ+ people and their allies- and they’re starting to get their way.

While Canada has long had a reputation for relative safety and tolerance for queer people, a vocal and virulently anti-LGBTQ+ minority has long persisted and protested against incremental gains made by the community. 

This hardcore anti-LGBTQ+ element has recently taken on a Christian nationalist and fascist tone inspired by movements in the United States and galvanized by domestic anti-vaccine protests that culminated in the truck convoy that blockaded Ottawa and several border crossings for three weeks in February 2022. 

But where past anti-LGBTQ+ activists mostly seemed content to fight their battles at the ballot box, militant homophobes are now taking their fights into the streets, intentionally implying the threat of violence.

The most recent round of moral panic seemed to begin with protests against Drag Queen Story Hour events held at local libraries, community centers and restaurants, much as they have in the United States. Drag events have faced protests from coast to coast, in rural towns, suburbs, and big cities. 

Since last summer, there have been reports of public protests and threats against drag readings in Nelson, Coquitlam, Kelowna, Richmond, Victoria, Vancouver, and North Vancouver, in British Columbia; Taber, Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton, in Alberta; Saskatoon and North Battleford in Saskatchewan; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Woodstock, Peterborough, Parkhill, Pembroke, Orillia, Whitby, Scugog, Sault St. Marie, Dryden, Sarnia, Hamilton, Guelph, London, and Toronto, in Ontario; Montreal, Sainte-Catherine, and Dorval in Quebec; Moncton and St. John, New Brunswick; Georgetown, Prince Edward Island; Kentville and Sydney in Nova Scotia; and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Homophobes are also making a push to target school boards across the country, using familiar accusations that school libraries and curricula inappropriately include topics related to sexuality and gender.

They’ve also targeted school board meetings and schools in Mission, Chilliwack, and Surrey, BC; Winnipeg and Brandon in Manitoba; and Ottawa, Orillia, Renfrew, York, Durham, Hamilton and Windsor, Ontario; Charlottetown, PEI; and St. John’s Newfoundland.

“Within the last three months it has taken off to the point where there are so many happening that we’re not able to be on top of it the way we would like to be,” says Hazel Woodrow, an education facilitator at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “Nobody’s really safe anywhere. In big cities, it’s seen as blowback against metropolitanism. In a small town, it’s like they staking their claim against big cities.” 

“The frequency of it is pointing to an escalating pattern of behavior,” she says. “The rhetoric of, that person is a child molester, is a threat to children, that language is more inflammatory because it calls to action. It doesn’t just rationalize violence but demands it. It almost seems like these protests are speaking to the rest of us.”

While there has been little actual violence, multiple venues have received threats of violence, and protestors regularly spout homophobic vitriol and slanderous “groomer” accusations baselessly implying that queer people are involved in pedophilia. One man has been arrested multiple times for harassing children and parents at a drag event in Calgary.  

A man who organized several protests against drag events across Southwestern Ontario, Bubba Pollock, was arrested last week after he posted a photo on a counter-protestor’s Facebook page of himself standing next to her dying father’s bed in the palliative care ward of a Windsor hospital. He’s been charged with criminal harassment. 

The protests and threats have forced venues and performers to take unprecedented steps to ensure safety. Some are bringing in police for security – a rarity in Canadian libraries and school boards. Community members are also staging counter-protests and blockades to drown out the relatively small groups of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters. 

Calgary has also passed new by-laws to ban protests within 100 meters of the entrance to a library or a recreation center, and to more strongly penalize hate-based street harassment in response to an alarming string of more than a dozen anti-drag protests in that city.

Social conservatives have rarely had success in Canada in the last several decades. Even while Canada’s Conservative parties have openly courted their votes, they’re rarely delivered the anti-LGBTQ+ policies that homophobes have demanded once in power. Canada’s electoral system tends to discourage extreme or fringe groups and reward parties that appeal to moderate voters.

But the new generation of social conservatives – although still representing a tiny minority of Canadians – are savvier about organizing and using intimidation tactics and social media to achieve their goals. 

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has reported on how known neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and far-right groups have been openly involved in the protests, while CBC News has reported that anti-vaccine and trucker convoy groups have pivoted to protesting against LGBTQ+ issues.

These groups are adept at using video and social media to build followings and solicit donations that have funded a sophisticated messaging machine. For example, the Christian nationalist group Action4Canada generates action calls to protest drag events and school board meetings across the county, complete with prepared slogans, placards, and form letters for its members to use, and addresses, phone numbers, and emails to use for intimidating messages. 

They’re backed up by sympathetic far-right news outlets backed by deep pockets like Rebel Media, True North, Canada Proud, and Life Site News, as well as from the mainstream right-wing PostMedia news empire, which often presents skeptical gay and lesbian columnists to question trans rights. Backlash against homophobic protestors also often gets breathlessly covered by American outlets like Fox News, which amplifies donations to these groups.

“On the one hand, we would say that highlighting that whenever these people decide to show up and be disruptive and harmful to a community, they are outnumbered, is a good thing, because it can give confidence to the people who are countering them,” Woodrow says. “So many of these far-right protests are meant to be disruptive of the event, but at the same time they’re propaganda events. That’s why you’ll see so many people live streaming and getting sound bites.”

The number of protestors is relatively small, and because the same organizers often turn up at multiple events in different cities, the local opposition is likely even smaller. They’re routinely vastly outnumbered by counter-protestors at events.

And yet the sheer number of anti-LGBTQ+ protests and their regular coverage in the media gives the false impression that their campaigns have some grassroots legitimacy that is growing and spreading.

A Canadian Pride flag displayed on Davie Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in the Davie Village, part of the West End area, which is Vancouver’s vibrant LGBTQ+ district.
(Photo courtesy of Brody Levesque)

Several Catholic school districts – in some parts of Canada, Catholic schools are publicly funded – have banned the flying of Pride flags. One town in Ontario also banned flying Pride flags on municipal property. 

Several drag story time events have been cancelled or postponed because of threats of violence, and at least one event in Montreal was cancelled at the order of a borough mayor who questioned its appropriateness. 

Last month, a woman who compared transgender children to feces was elected to the Alberta legislature. Although Jennifer Johnson was removed from the United Conservative Party caucus, the UCP leader has left the door open for Johnson to be welcomed back at some point.

And just last week, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced he was rescinding policies that protect trans students in the province’s schools, framing it as an issue of parents’ rights. Going forward, trans students will need their parents’ permissions to use a name or pronouns other than their given name in schools.

Higgs is now facing a party revolt due in part to the policy change and may be ousted as premier. 

That moving against LGBTQ+ people still carries political costs is of some comfort to queer Canadians.

LGBTQ+ activist Morgan Manzer is not surprised that Higgs’ move has backfired.“Several weeks ago I warned [Nova Scotian] politicians against attacking 2SLGBTQIA+ folks because it would end badly for them. @premierbhiggs may prove to be case and point. He miscalculated the strength and power of the 2SLGBTQIA+ movement,” Manzer tweeted.

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Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Eight jailed across Canada in anti-LGBTQ rallies against sex ed

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemns bigotry as counterprotests outnumber anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators in most cities

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Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools Wednesday, September 20, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube CBC)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada -A highly coordinated series of anti-LGBT protests rocked more than 80 cities across Canada Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tactics by Canada’s anti-LGBTQ extremists.

The coordinated protests dubbed “1 Million March 4 Children” are demanding an end to discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Canadian classrooms. They come as several Canadian provinces have enacted policies that require students to have parental permission to change their preferred name or pronoun used in schools, and shortly after the federal Conservative Party adopted a series of anti-trans policies at its national convention.

According to its website, 1 Million March 4 Children is calling for “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.” The website also lists among its supporters numerous groups that were opposed to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccine groups, groups that promote conspiracy theories, and groups that support the truck convoys that laid siege to Ottawa and several US border crossings last year.

Protests happened from coast to coast, in big cities, suburbs, and small towns, but in most cases, they were met with coordinated counter-protests in support of LGBT rights who greatly outnumbered the protesters. 

CBC reported that counter-protesters numbered roughly double the anti-LGBT protesters in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  

Inclusive sex education has long been part of school curriculums in most provinces in Canada and has generally enjoyed support from all major political parties.

While the protests where mostly peaceful, at least four anti-LGBT protesters were arrested after getting into altercations with counter-protestors in British Columbia, and police advised that the protest in front of the provincial legislature had become “unsafe.”

Police in Nanaimo, BC tackled and arrested one man who attempted to flee after allegedly getting into a physical altercation at City Hall. Two protestors were also arrested in Victoria, BC as they demonstrated in front of the provincial legislature, and another protester was arrested in Vancouver, BC. Police in both cities did not provide additional information.

Ottawa police also arrested two protesters for allegedly inciting hatred and another for causing a disturbance in at the protest in front of Parliament.

And Toronto police arrested 47-year-old protester Julia Stevenson for allegedly bringing a weapon to the demonstration outside the provincial legislature. Police did not give further details about what kind of weapon she is alleged to have been carrying.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the UN General Assembly in New York, condemned the anti-LGBT protests in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued,” he wrote.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre did not put out any statement on the protests, nor did deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is openly lesbian and has previously spoken out on LGBT issues on behalf of the party. 

The leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh joined the counter-protestors who demonstrated in Ottawa and marched toward Parliament Hill.

“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh told CTV. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling says the protesters are part of a North America-wide movement fomenting hatred against queer people using misinformation and lies.

“Using ‘parental consent’ as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” Schilling said in a statement.

In many cities, the anti-LGBT protests were officially condemned by mayors and school boards.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who has publicly supported LGBT rights since the 1980s, issued a strong statement condemning the protests

“We stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all young people. Some wish to target our schools and libraries to spread hate. We know these must be spaces that welcome everyone, especially students,” Chow wrote.

The city of Whitehorse, Yukon issued a statement condemning bigotry in advance of the protests.

“While the City supports people’s right to organize and protest, we stand by our 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and their right to live their true selves safely and free of harassment and hate. The promotion of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ ideas has no place in our community and messages that target fellow community members will not be tolerated,” the statement says.

However, the Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs, who was the first to introduce a “parental consent” policy for trans students, joined the protesters in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton. 

“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16 years old,” Higgs told reporters.

BC Conservative Party leader went further in a statement on the protests. While he says he doesn’t “officially” support the protests, if his party wins next year’s election, he promised to cancel the province’s sex ed curriculum and implied he would ban trans girls from sports.

Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools:

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canada’s conservatives take hard turn against trans people

Federal Conservatives adopt policies that would ban trans kids from medical treatment, block trans women from women’s spaces

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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaking to delegates to the federal Conservative Party’s policy convention in Quebec City September 8-10. (Photo Credit: Conservative Party of Canada * Parti conservateur du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | QUEBEC CITY, Canada – Canada’s federal and provincial conservative parties are suddenly joining American-style culture wars centered on trans issues, announcing new policies to crack down on access to medical care and women-only spaces, and restricting trans children from using chosen names and pronouns in schools.

At the federal Conservative Party’s policy convention in Quebec City this weekend, 69 percent of delegates voted to bar trans children from receiving gender-affirming care, while 87 percent of delegates voted to define “woman” as a “female person” and to demand that transwomen be barred from women-only spaces.

The policy vote – which was initiated by the party’s grassroots – will only become a part of the Conservative Party’s official platform if current leader Pierre Poilievre decides to include it. The party has been riding high in the polls for several months as Canadians deal with a growing cost-of-living crisis, but a federal election isn’t scheduled for two more years.

While the federal Conservatives had recently tried to focus on economic issues rather than culture-war issues, the convention vote is emblematic of how social conservatives have come to dominate the party’s agenda. 

The vote also comes as a wave of anti-trans and anti-drag protests has appeared across Canada. 

The latest salvo in the culture war battles against trans Canadians was ignited this spring, when the deeply unpopular Conservative premier of New Brunswick announced a new policy that would bar students from changing the name or pronoun they use at school without written consent from their parents. Two cabinet ministers resigned in protest over the new rule, which was immediately criticized by LGBT activists and teachers unions, who pointed out that it would be impractical to enforce and would violate trans students’ human rights. Nevertheless, the policy came into effect in September, although it has faced a court challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.

Shortly after, the conservative-affiliated government of Saskatchewan introduced a similar rule that has also been subject to a court challenge. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has announced he intends to bolster the regulation with a “parental rights” law this fall as it prepares for an election next year. An anti-LGBTQ Christian organization called Action4Canada has claimed credit for lobbying the government to introduce the school reforms. 

That was followed by the Conservative government of Ontario led by Premier Doug Ford announcing that it was developing a similar policy. Ford’s government has been mired in a series of scandals recently, including most prominently a land reclassification that saw a handful of party donors receive billions of dollars in land value uplift while degrading environmentally sensitive land around Toronto. 

Ford and his ministers have repeatedly described the new policy as protecting parents’ rights in speeches and campaign-style events, although a provincial election isn’t scheduled for another two years.

“Parents rights. They need to be… informed when they [students] make a decision. It’s not up to teachers and school boards to indoctrinate our kids. I can’t even figure out what school boards do anymore,” Ford said at an event in Kitchener, Ontario last week. 

Many activists have pointed out that Ford appears to be attempting to use the new policy to shift attention from the corruption scandal that has already led to the resignation of one cabinet minister.

“Shame on Premier Ford. Schools are not indoctrinating students. This “parental rights” rhetoric is just a good slogan hiding an anti-trans and social conservative agenda. And – right now – it’s a desperate distraction from his scandal-plagued track record,” tweeted Fae Johnstone, a trans activist and President of the advocacy group Queer Momentum. 

Five of Canada’s other seven provinces are currently governed by conservative-leaning parties, though none of the others have announced plans to copy the student name and pronoun policy yet. 

Although Canada’s Conservative Party and its provincial cousins have a long history of pursuing policies that have harmed LGBT communities, the sudden wave of anti-trans policies has come of something of a surprise, after what appeared to be several years of détente on culture wars.

In 2021, the federal Conservative Party allowed Parliament to pass a bill banning conversion therapy by unanimous consent and in 2017, dozens of Conservative MPs joined the government in passing a bill that banned anti-trans discrimination and hate speech. Saskatchewan’s conservative government banned discrimination against trans people in 2014, and Conservative parties also gave unanimous consent to provincial conversion therapy bans in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon in the last decade.

In the last federal election in 2021, the Conservative Party fielded its first ever openly trans candidate, Hannah Hodson, who ran in the district of Victoria, British Columbia, placing third with 13 percent of the vote. Though Hodson served for years as a staffer for conservative politicians, she announced this year that she was leaving the party due its turn to anti-trans policies. 

“To all the [Conservative Party of Canada] people who have told me they love me, support me, and would fight for me, and who are now telling me to calm down and just go along with this. Or worse, telling me to stay quiet. I see you and I will not forget,” Hodson wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in response to the convention vote on anti-trans policies. 

While the federal government doesn’t generally control health services, Health Canada could regulate the use of medications and treatments for trans children. The federal government also doesn’t generally have the ability to regulate access to women’s spaces in schools or businesses, but does control prisons, airports, and federal government offices. 

Nevertheless, trans activists say that if the proposed policies are enacted by a future federal Conservative government, they would greatly harm trans people. 

“I would like everyone to recall, quite simply, that trans people are generally poor, more likely to be homeless, and experience a whole lot of hate for being ourselves. This is the community that the Conservative Party of Canada is picking on. Because they can,” says Johnstone. 

The new provincial policies around trans kids mirror legislation proposed or passed in several US states that requires schools to out students to their parents if they appear to be LGBT. 

It’s somewhat whiplash-inducing to see Conservative legislators who just a few years ago supported banning conversion therapy now call for parental consent over gender identity. Under the federal and provincial laws that Conservatives previously supported, it would be illegal for parents to try to change their child’s gender identity or expression by forcing them to undergo conversion therapy. But under the education policies enacted by Conservative provincial governments, parents would essentially hold a veto over their children’s gender expression. 

Children and youth advocates, LGBTQ activists, as well as teachers unions have pointed out that the new rules violate the rights of trans students to a safe learning environment. The rules also put educators in an impossible position of policing the gender identities of their students.

“While we believe that the ideal situation would include parents and guardians in the conversations and decision making, we support current school board policy in Ontario that centers the students in the decision making and honours their right to self-identify, even when parental consent is not given, to support an equitable and inclusive learning environment,” wrote the Ontario Principals’ Council in a statement on the proposed rule

“Students who do not have parental, family and community support that respects and validates them face higher risks of self-harm, emotional distress, isolation, deteriorating mental health and increased bullying. Gender-affirming practices such as honouring preferred names and pronouns help to reduce those risks and contribute to greater inclusion, belonging and success at school,” the statement says.

Watch Pierre Poilievre’s full speech at the Conservative policy convention in Quebec City:

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canada warns its LGBTQ+ citizens about traveling to the U.S.

Outside Canada, laws and customs related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression can be very different from those in Canada

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Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (Center wearing white sweater) at Toronto Pride 2023. (Photo Credit: Government of Canada)

MONCTON, New Brunswick, Canada – Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Global Affairs Canada has updated its travel advisory for the United States for LGBTQ+ Canadians.

The new advisory reads, “Some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Check relevant state and local laws,” and directs people to a web page that CBC reported providing broad information on how members of the community could be targeted while travelling to foreign countries.

That advice tells travelers to beware of laws that criminalize same-sex activities and relationships, or target people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That advice also warns travelers that laws to curb vagrancy and public nuisance incidents could also be used to target them in an effort “to criminalize 2SLGBTQI+ people.”

During the press briefing Freeland said she supported the decision to update the travel advice but would not comment on whether U.S. President Joe Biden was informed before the update was made.

“Every Canadian government, very much including our government, needs to put at the center of everything we do the interests and the safety of every single Canadian, and of every single group of Canadians,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing now. That’s what we’re always going to do.”

Freeland also told reporters that as a former foreign affairs minister, she’s confident that travel advisories appearing on the Global Affairs Canada website are “done very professionally.”

“We have professionals in the government whose job is to look carefully around the world and to monitor whether there are particular dangers to particular groups of Canadians. That’s their job and it’s the right thing to do,” the Deputy Prime Minister added.

In a media statement released by Global Affairs Canada, the department said:

“Since the beginning of 2023, certain states in the U.S. have passed laws banning drag shows and restricting the transgender community from access to gender affirming care and from participation in sporting events.

“The information is provided to enable travelers to make their own informed decisions regarding destinations. Outside Canada, laws and customs related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics can be very different from those in Canada.”

The ACLU is tracking 495 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. for the 2023 legislative year in over half of the United States, a majority that would impact LGBTQ+ Canadian travelers.

Accurate IDs

These bills attempt to limit the ability to update gender information on IDs and records, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. This puts transgender people at risk of losing jobs, facing harassment, and other harms. Trans, intersex, and nonbinary people need IDs that accurately reflect who they are to travel, apply for jobs, and enter public establishments without risk of harassment or harm.

Civil Rights

These bills attempt to undermine and weaken nondiscrimination laws by allowing employers, businesses, and even hospitals to turn away LGBTQ people or refuse them equal treatment.

Free Speech & Expression

Despite the safeguards of the First Amendment’s right to free expression, politicians are fighting to restrict how and when LGBTQ people can be themselves, limiting access to books about them and trying to ban or censor performances like drag shows.

Healthcare

These bills target access to medically-necessary health care, like Medicaid, for transgender people. Many of these bills ban affirming care for trans youth, and can create criminal penalties for providing this care. These bills exempt identical treatments offered to cisgender youth or are forced onto intersex youth. Other bills block funding to medical centers that offer gender-affirming care, or block insurance coverage of health care for transgender people.

Public Accommodations

Public accommodations bills seek to prohibit transgender people from using facilities like public bathrooms and locker rooms. Everyone should have access to these spaces, no matter their gender identity or gender expression. If you can’t use the restroom, you can’t fully participate in work, school, and public life.

Schools & Education

State lawmakers are trying to prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports, force teachers to out students, and censor any in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues. Instead of limiting resources, education, and opportunities, our schools should protect and support all students to learn and thrive.

Other Anti-LGBTQ Bills

These bills don’t quite fit in any of the other categories, but nonetheless target the rights of LGBTQ people. Examples include bans on marriage and bills preempting local nondiscrimination protections.

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Canadian gay couple wins suit against Italian far-right party 

The Fratelli d’Italia used the couple’s viral image of holding their newborn son in a campaign against LGBT rights

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Frank Nelson and BJ Barone with their son Milo in a recent photo. (Courtesy of Frank Nelson and BJ Barone)

By Rob Salerno | TORONTO, Canada -A Canadian gay couple who’s viral photo with their newborn son was used in an anti-LGBT-rights campaign by a far-right party has been awarded 20,000 euros ($21,600 USD) in compensation for unauthorized use of their image. 

Frank Nelson and BJ Barone welcomed their son Milo into the world on June 27, 2014. A picture snapped by Canadian photographer Lindsay Foster moments after his birth of the couple holding Milo went viral nearly immediately, eventually generating headlines around the world. 

But two years later, the photo was used without their permission in a political campaign against gay marriage and surrogacy by the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party in Italy.  

Photo courtesy of Frank Nelson and BJ Barone

“BJ’s family in Italy said our picture is everywhere there,” Nelson says. “They were using our photo and saying this baby will never know his mother. Obviously, we never thought we could do anything about it. But we wrote a children’s story to celebrate the photo and tell our own story.” 

Over time, the case became more pressing when the Fratelli d’Italia were swept from obscurity into leading the Italian government in 2022. Since then, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has led a campaign to clamp down on same-sex parents, with the government ordering non-biological parents removed from the birth certificates of the few children who’ve been registered with same-sex parents in the country.  

The couple were approached by a legal firm in Italy who encouraged them to sue the party over the use of their image. The couple agreed, but soon found out the legal process in Italy would drag out over years. 

“We had sort of given up hope. It had been seven years. To hear this news during pride month, we felt like this was meant to me,” Nelson says. 

The Italian government is also cracking down on surrogacy generally. It’s already banned in the country, but many couples, including straight couples, simply go overseas to find surrogates and then bring their children home. The government is on the cusp of passing a law that would make going abroad to conceive a child through a surrogate illegal. 

“I understand a number of European countries are using that as a model. So, things are scary,” Nelson says. 

Nelson and Barone were notified two months ago that they won their case and were awarded 10,000 euros ($10,800 USD) each. They say they’ve put the award into their son’s college fund. 

Nelson and Barone have also continued to advocate for and assist gay men with access to surrogacy over the past decade. Together, they run the website FamilyIsAboutLove.com where they share their story, and they’ve self-published the book Milo’s Adventures. Nelson also sits on the board of Men Having Babies, which assists gay men with the surrogacy process.  

Milo recently turned nine years old, and his parents say he’s a happy and healthy boy. 

“I was just saying to Frank today, our little baby is growing up. He’s no longer this tiny little person. He’s becoming his own independent person. He’s very opinionated and stubborn,” Barone says. “He was born during June. He walks in Pride he thinks the celebrations are for his birthday.” 

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Hate motivated stabbing attack left 3 injured at Ontario university

Hundreds rally against hate after what Waterloo police say was hate-motivated attack related to gender expression and gender identity

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Chief Mark Crowell of the Waterloo Regional Police Service addresses reporters. (Screenshot/YouTube CTV)

By Rob Salerno | WATERLOO, Ontario, Canada – A 24-year-old man has been arrested and charged after he allegedly stabbed three people in a philosophy class at the University of Waterloo on Wednesday afternoon, in what police are calling a hate-motivated attack based on gender expression and identity in the college town approximately 70 miles west of Toronto, Canada.

Geovanny Villalba-Aleman allegedly entered a 40-person Philosophy class, asked the professor about the subject of the class, and then attacked her with two large knives. Two students, a 19-year old man and a 20-year old woman, were also injured when they tried to intervene. All were taken to the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

The class, “Philosophy 202: Gender Issues” is described in the University of Waterloo course calendar as a “Philosophical analysis of issues relating to sex/gender.” It says students will explore questions like: “What, if anything, is the difference between sex and gender? How much of a role do facts about biology play in our ideas about sex and gender? How many sexes are there? What ethical issues arise for us in virtue of our gender?”

Villalba-Aleman, an international student from Ecuador who recently graduate from the university, has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault, four counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and mischief under $5,000. He remains in police custody.

Friends of Villalba-Aleman say he struggled to make friends and rarely spoke up except to talk about how much he disliked LGBTQ people and Pride events.

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Mark Crowell told a press conference that investigators are treating the attack as a “planned and targeted attack motivated by hate related to gender and expression gender identity.”

“It is both sad and disturbing that this attack has occured during pride month,” he says. “We hope that this attack does not diminish from these celebrations, but instead encourages us all to come together to continue to celebrate and continue to inspire love over hate.”

Hundreds attended a rally against hate Thursday afternoon on the university quad to attempt to heal the trauma of the attack. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the attack on Twitter, calling it “horrifying and unacceptable.”

“The fact that the stabbings at the University of Waterloo were hate-motivated is absolutely despicable. I strongly condemn this vile act. It is another reminder that we can never let misogynistic, anti-2SLGBTQI+ rhetoric escalate – because these words have real-life consequences,” Trudeau says.

The attack comes amid an alarming rise in threatening and intimidating protests against the queer and trans communities in Canada, but police believe the attacker was working alone. 

Statistics Canada has reported a spike in hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, with 423 hate crimes recorded in 2021, up from a previous peak of 265 in 2019.

Canada added protections for “gender identity or expression” to its hate crime laws in 2017. 

While attacks on schools are relatively rare in Canada, one of the deadliest mass murders in Canadian history took place at the École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, when 14 women were murdered in an engineering class, claiming that he was “fighting feminism.” The attack is commemorated annually in Canada as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

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Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Canadian police: Couple assaulted for buying Bud Light

It is believed there was a crowd of people nearby at the time of this incident. Any witnesses are asked to come forward

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Photo Credit: York Regional Police

VAUGHAN, Ont., Canada – York Regional Police are investigating a possible hate-motivated incident in the City of Vaughan and are seeking three suspects after two people were assaulted and anti-homosexual slurs were uttered.

The incident, which happened at around 8:30 p.m. this past Saturday when a man and a woman were accosted by several males outside a liquor store. One of the suspects commented on the male victim’s choice of alcohol, Bud Light, and uttered anti-homosexual derogatory slurs as he approached the male victim.

According to a York Regional Police spokesperson Sergeant Clint Whitney, the female victim stepped between them and was then physically assaulted. Two more suspects got involved and both victims were beaten, with the male victim being knocked to the ground. A bystander intervened and the suspects fled in a black Nissan Rogue vehicle with Ontario license plate CLHL733.

The 27-year-old female victim required hospital treatment for her injuries. The 26-year-old male victim suffered minor injuries and did not require medical attention.

York Regional Police officers obtained photos of one of the suspects (Suspect #1 – see attached images).

Suspect 1 photograph 1
Suspect 1 photograph 2

SUSPECT #1:Male, white, 25 to 35, slim build, short buzz-cut hair, with a tattoo on his jawline and tattoos on both hands.Wearing a black Adidas jacket with white stripes on the arms, blue jeans, and black and white sneakers with orange on the heels.SUSPECT #2:Male, with a light-brown complexion, black hair, full black beard.Wearing a red Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal soccer jerseySUSPECT #3:Male 

It is believed there was a crowd of people nearby at the time of this incident. Any witnesses who have not yet spoken to investigators are asked to come forward. Anyone who has information about the identity and/or whereabouts of the suspects are urged to contact police as soon as possible.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the York Regional Police #4 District Criminal Investigations Bureau at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7441. Alternatively, information may also be provided anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or going online at www.1800222tips.com.

Global News Canada coverage:

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Canada to expunge records of people convicted under “unjust” laws

New regulations also allow expungements of convictions under old laws that criminalized abortion & targeted queer people in bathhouses & clubs

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By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA – The government of Canada announced on March 7 that new regulations were in place allowing people who had been convicted of historically unjust offences that targeted queer people and women seeking abortions to have their criminal records expunged.

Under the new regulations, people who have been convicted of the offences related to being found in a “bawdy house” or putting on an “indecent performance” or exhibition – offences that had in the past been used to target queer people – as well as various offences related to seeking or providing an abortion, can now apply to the Parole Board of Canada to have all records of their conviction destroyed. Deceased persons can have their records expunged by a representative. There is no fee to apply for the expungement.

The regulations are an expansion of the 2018 “Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions” law, which originally allowed men who were convicted under laws banning “gross indecency,” “buggery,” and “anal sex” to have their records wiped.

“We need to recognize the historic injustices that wrongly targeted vulnerable communities,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino of the new regulations in the House of Commons. “This is about recognizing the legacy of discrimination suffered by women and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community while protecting their right to choose and access safe reproductive health care. This is one more step toward building a compassionate, inclusive and diverse country.”

According to the government’s analysis included in the announcement of the new regulations, the RCMP National Repository of Criminal Records identified 18 579 records related to bawdy houses and indecent acts and 67 abortion-related convictions that may be eligible for expungement. The Parole Board is expecting up to 2500 people to apply for expungements. 

Canada’s “bawdy house” law formerly criminalized anyone who worked in or was found in a place where prostitution or indecency occurred. The intentionally vague law was used regularly as an excuse to raid queer spaces – particularly bath houses. 

Coordinated raids on four bathhouses in Toronto in 1981 led to the arrests of more than 300 men in one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. The event, dubbed “Operation Soap” by Toronto Police, sparked massive protests that are frequently cited as the start of Toronto’s Pride Festival. Bathhouse aids continued to be a semi-regular occurrence in Canada until 2002, when Toronto Police raided a lesbian event called “Pussy Palace.” In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex in a bawdy house is not indecent, and therefore not illegal, significantly narrowing the scope of the law. 

Abortion in Canada was generally illegal unless a hospital committee determined that it was necessary to save the life of the mother until 1988. That year, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws as a violation of women’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. 

The bawdy house and abortion laws were finally repealed from the Criminal Code in a general overhaul that had also struck out defunct laws that established a different age of consent for anal sex. The indecency law remains in the Criminal Code, but its use is generally limited. 

Although the entire bawdy house law was repealed, the expungement order explicitly does not apply to anyone whose conviction stems from a bawdy house used for sex work or anyone who engaged in sex work in a bawdy house. The expungement order also does not apply to convictions for indecent acts that occur outside a bawdy house, for example, cruising in a public park. 

“Canadians deserve non-discriminatory policies that put their safety first, which is why the Government of Canada recognizes that past laws and regulations were unjust and compromised the freedoms of 2SLGBTQI+ communities and women,” Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien said in a press release.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a number of steps to address historic injustices against 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians since being elected in 2015. In addition to repealing unjust laws and creating the record expungement program, the government issued an apology for past persecution of queer Canadians in 2017, and reached a settlement with queer government employees who had been purged from the civil service from the 1950s to the 1990s.The government also prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression under the Canada Human Rights Act, banned conversion therapy, and recently ended the ban on blood donations from gay men. However, a regulation banning gay men from donating sperm still exists in Canada.

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Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Gay man sues Canadian government for right to donate sperm

The US Food and Drug Administration also maintains a total ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men

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Health Canada's headquarters in Toronto, Ontario (Photo Credit: Government of Canada - Gouvernement du Canada)

By Rob Salerno | TORONTO – For Aziz M., becoming a father through sperm donation was a life-changing and emotionally rewarding experience. He had developed a relationship with his biological daughter and her parents. He hoped to one day do it again.

But his dreams were dashed after he came out of the closet and discovered that under Canadian federal health regulations, his sexuality made him no longer eligible to donate sperm.

Now the Toronto man (his name is being withheld for privacy reasons) is suing the government of Canada to force it to withdraw regulations that discriminate against gay and bisexual men seeking to become sperm donors. He alleges that the donor ban is unlawful under the Canadian constitution’s ban on discrimination.

“You gain nothing from giving blood, but the discrimination is harmful in itself,” Aziz says. “It feels like you’re a second-class citizen. There’s an emotional harm that you are not an acceptable person.” 

Aziz says the ban bars gay and bisexual men from pursuing a deeply meaningful biological relationship.

“Sperm donation is a bit more than blood donation, because it gives you a potential to create life, to have a relationship with the recipient,” he says. “I message my biological daughter, I have a relationship with them, it’s very enriching. LGBT people are not allowed to have that same experience.”

Regulations banning men who have sex with men from donating blood and tissues, including sperm, were gradually enacted by Canada and many other countries, including the United States, in the wake of the AIDS crisis amid fears that donations from queer men might unintentionally spread HIV. 

But while the federal government and the agencies responsible for collecting blood donations in Canada eliminated discriminatory rules banning men who have sex with men from donating blood last year, regulations still ban on sperm and other tissue donations from men who have sex with men unless they are abstinent for at least three months before the donation.

The US Food and Drug Administration also maintains a total ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men. 

Aside from being discriminatory, these regulations are scientifically unnecessary, Aziz says, because other regulations ensure that donors do not carry any infections.

All donors must be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases before donating sperm. Their samples are then quarantined for six months and only released if the donor again tests negative. 

“The testing that is way more strict now should ensure that there is no need for the discriminatory clause,” Aziz says. “The science is there now and there’s no basis for it.” 

In Canada, the ban on sperm donations from gay men exacerbates a national shortage of sperm that stems from a federal law prohibiting paying donors for their semen. Consequently, most sperm donations in Canada are imported from the United States.

Last year, Canada’s federal government released a 2SLGBTQI+ action plan to promote equality for queer Canadians. It includes a number of proposed legal reforms, such as banning unnecessary surgeries on intersex children and rewriting indecency laws to ensure they can’t be used to discriminate against queer people, but it does not mention the sperm and tissue donation bans.

In the wake of Aziz filing his lawsuit, several government ministers have made statements to the press about how it may be time to reconsider the sperm ban, but none has directly pledged to repeal it.

Multiple requests for comment on the ban to Canada’s minister for women and gender equality, who is responsible for the 2SLGBTI+ action plan, and the minister of health were not responded to. 

Alice Ruby, executive director of The Sperm Bank of California, says her clinic has advocated for the US FDA to repeal its gay sperm ban.

“[The ban] reduces the number of people we can accept into our sperm donor program. We get lots of interest from gay and bisexual men. We turn them away every week. Over the course of a year, we had turned away over 400 applicants,” she says. 

Banning donations from gay men doesn’t only impact the donors. 

Ruby says that banning donations from gay men restricts choice from women, particularly lesbians, bisexual women, and trans people, who would prefer their child have a queer father, to ensure that the child’s biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of LGBT families.

“We’re the only Nonprofit sperm donor program in the US and we were founded specifically to provide for lesbians and single women,” she says. “We had the first population who planned to tell their children how they were conceived. They wanted an option for their children to get more information in the future. It was the first program in the nation that offered donors an option to identify themselves to their adult children in the future.

“Similar to donors seeking a similar ethnic background, some recipients choose donors who share similar values and want a donor who’s from the community,” she says. 

Ruby also says the ban also exacerbates a shortage of donations from Black men and people of color. 

“A high percentage of those applicants [we turn away] were Black men, and there is a shortage of Black sperm donors in the US. Not only are we turning away members of our own community (LGBT) we are turning away people who would be welcomed to serve Black and Indigenous People of Color.”

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Rob Salerno is a writer, actor, and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Pride flags vandalized at a Mom & Mom bodega in Nova Scotia

“We really care about what we’re doing and someone is missing out on that experience and I feel badly for them”

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(Photo courtesy of Sue Littleton)

LAWRENCETOWN, NS, Canada – Sue Littleton and Candice Zaina moved 1,866.0 km (1159.4 miles) from Hamilton, Ontario to Nova Scotia and opened up what most would see as a seriously quaint bodega in this coastal town just east of Halifax.

The married lesbian couple had honeymooned last Spring in the area around Lawrencetown and Littleton’s father had grown up there. In an interview this week with a local newspaper, the Halifax Examiner, Littleton explained:

“I had always dreamt of opening a shop in this exact location,” Littleton said. “It was a green grocer and butcher shop when I was a kid. I just have very fond memories of it.”

The couple opened their bodega earlier this month and was met immediately with an enthusiastic response from the local community the Halifax Examiner reported.

“Our goal is to be a bit of a general store with a bit of everything and a focus on local produce and locally handcrafted wares of all sorts,” Littleton said. “We also have an espresso counter and ultimately we’ll be adding cookbooks and kitchenware because that’s one of my passions.” 

“It’s been incredibly successful. There’s definitely way more of an appetite for what we’re doing than we even imagined, which is really exciting.” 

Sue Littleton, left, and Candice Zaina, owners of Bee’s Knees General Store and Bakery. 
(Photo courtesy of Sue Littleton)

However, apparently not everyone in the town was thrilled. Prior to the shop’s actual open not long after the couple had purchased the building, they had hung LGBTQ+ Pride flags from an upper floor. But, after the bodega’s opening in early December those flags were targeted by persons unknown and taken down three times with the fourth incident taking an ugly turn.

“We figured the first time it was just some kids or someone being mischievous,” Littleton told the Examiner. “We thought someone was goofing off and pulled the flag off and the flagpole down with it with no intent of doing any damage. But when it kept happening, it became clear it was a message being sent to us.” 

In a Facebook post the two women wrote about the December 23 incident:

It sure was windy last night. So windy that some human feces mysteriously landed on the flags that we found on the ground again this morning.

The flag that our friend Jim put up in solidarity at his shop down the road was also down. Strangely, the wind didn’t seem to do much other damage in the village. We have cameras now. We called the RCMP despite us both having had pretty awful experiences with cops in the past. We will not be intimidated or silenced.

The outpouring of support and love we have experienced is something very beautiful and reinforces for us why it is so important for us to continue to fly the flag.

We had a parent bring their newly out teen into the shop yesterday. They drove nearly an hour to come support us. The parent thanked us for helping them to show their kid that queer joy is possible. THAT is why we do this.

We are full of love. We will continue to spread that love no matter what. That’s what we do.

Again, we invite whoever is doing this to come in for a coffee and a treat. We would be happy to sit at our gathering table with you to talk in a civilized way about why flying this flag is important to us.

Love wins. Love will always win.

In a Friday phone conversation with the Los Angeles Blade, Littleton confirmed the incidents and then stressed that the best antiseptic to hate-filled ignorant acts such as what had occurred was to combat that hate with tolerance, understanding, and show that love indeed will always win.

Littleton told the Examiner that while she and Zaina both felt discouraged, they’re also feeling positive with the outpouring of the community and beyond. Commenting on the acts of vandalism she told the paper:

“We really care about what we’re doing and someone is missing out on that experience and I feel badly for them, that they care more about our sexuality or gender expression than about what we’re trying to do about being community, and making life fun, comfortable, and delicious.” 

In the meanwhile Littleton tells the Blade, Bee’s Knees General Store and Bakery will be serving up fresh baked cheese biscuits, cookies, and lots of love.

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DunnEnzies Pizza store owners called pedophiles over drag show

“While some of the show’s detractors called it a “sex show,” it’s simply not. It’s art and it’s sexy, and there’s a big distinction”

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Conflict sparked outside Kelowna drag show (Screenshot/Global News)

KELOWNA, British Columbia, Canada – The DunnEnzies Pizza Lower Mission location found itself targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ activists over its The Real Housewives of the North Pole drag show event last week.

Global News Canada reported that Karyn MacKenzie, one of the owners of the restaurant, said they received messages online calling them a “sick bunch of pedophiles” and “parasites” and the owners were told they should hang from the gallows.

On the day of the event last Wednesday a small group of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-drag protestors gathered outside the restaurant.

DunnEnzies Pizza Lower Mission (Photo Credit: DunnEnzies Pizza Co.)

MacKenzie also noted that prior to the event that she and her staff were also hosting other events including a Salvation toy and food drive. Dustyn Baulkham, one of the organisers said that the event’s performance featured three performers from OUT TV series Call Me Mother, a Canadian reality television series, but the performance at the pizza restaurant was considered to be an all-ages event.

Baulkham acknowledged though that not all of their shows were family friendly. “When we do drag shows, they are often a bit more adult-focused,” Baulkham told Global News.

“However, shows that we do welcome minors if they’re with a parent, because it’s that parent’s choice to expose their child to what they see fit…  and there will actually be live singing as well tonight. Sure, there’ll be some adult themes within it, but that just comes with the territory.”

Baulkham pointed out, while some of the show’s detractors called it a “sex show,” it’s simply not. “It’s art and it’s sexy, and there’s a big distinction,” Baulkham said.

Detractors however see these types of performances differently. One of the demonstrators outside the restaurant who was not identified by name told Global News:

“Goddam sodomites, disgusting people,” he said, while flanked by two other anti-LGBTQ+ activists with signs, “Enabling the pedophiles, this is disgusting. You should be ashamed as a mother.” The last statement directed at an LGBTQ+ community supporter, Joelle Wolf, who said she was far from ashamed.

“Love is always going to be the answer, especially with children,” Wolf told the hecklers. “You can spout a bunch of words you don’t understand, but it’s not going to change my parenting.”

She later told Global News she was happy to take her children to the event and expose them to something different.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said there was a minor incident between an anti-LGBTQ+ protester and a supporter of the drag show event. “They apologized to one another once police arrived and went on with what they were doing without further concerns,” the RCMP said in an emailed statement.

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